Irish woman ‘kidnapped’ from London as a pregnant teenager and sent home to a mother and baby institution recalls heartbreak after her son ‘didn’t want to know her’ when she tracked him down 30 years later
- Terri Harrison from Dublin, was pregnant when she moved to London in 1972
- She was forced to return to Ireland after visit from Catholic Crusade & Rescue
- Her son Niall was given to an adoption agency at around five weeks old
- Terri, now 66, says son Niall, now 47, doesn’t want ‘anything to do with her’
An Irish teen mother whose baby was forcibly taken from her at five weeks old has revealed her heartbreak after tracking down her son 30 years later, only to discover he wanted ‘nothing to with her’.
Terri Harrison, 66, from Dublin, moved to London when she fell pregnant aged 18, in 1972.
But the unmarried teen was ‘kidnapped’ and forced to return to Ireland and live in a mother and baby institution after she was visited by a priest and two nuns from the Catholic Crusade & Rescue while in hospital.
After giving birth, her son Niall was taken away to give to an adoption agency at around five-weeks-old, against Terri’s will.
Speaking to Irish magazine Evoke, she revealed that a social worker was able to track down Niall when he was around age 30, however he didn’t want to meet her saying: ‘She rang and told me about him, what he was like but he didn’t want to know anything about me and that is his decision.
‘I have reached out to Niall and I will always send him unconditional love. If he is not in the right place to receive me, I have to accept that, as much as it hurts. But I don’t give up hope.’
Terri Harrison, 66, (pictured) from Dublin, has revealed her son Niall who was taken away five weeks after being born doesn’t want anything to do with her
Terri explained that she hadn’t told her parents or the father of her son about her pregnancy, when she convinced them to allow her to lodge with her aunt in London.
Having got a job as a cashier at Sainsbury’s, Terri was building her own life in England and no one asked if she had a husband until she was rushed to A&E after tripping on the stairs.
While in hospital, a priest and two nuns from the Catholic Crusade & Rescue soon came to see her and ‘forced’ her to return to Ireland.
Although Terri was legally an adult, the organisation had a scheme with the Irish Government allowing pregnant girls from Ireland to be forced back to their home country and placed in institutions.
Records suggests 2,434 women were ‘repatriated’ from 1948 to 1971, with the State paying half the cost for the women’s repatriation.
Terri and the father of her baby had hopes to raise their child together. Pictured: Terri’s son Niall in the home
Bessborough in County Cork, 75 percent of the children born or admitted in a single year, 1943, died. The girls of Bessborough are pictured above.
Terri said she had no way of telling anyone where she was after being sent to the Bessborough home in Cork where she was identified by just a number.
What did report into Ireland’s Mother & baby homes reveal?
An Irish inquiry into alarming death rates among newborns at church-run homes for unwed mothers handed down its final report earlier this month laying bare one of the Catholic Church’s darkest chapters.
There have been a series of reports into allegations of abuse and mistreatment by priests and members of religious orders since 2005.
The homes were for unwed pregnant women, often under 18, many were victims of rape, they were run by the Church, but overseen by the government.
In the early decades most women who were admitted were domestic servants or farm workers or they were carrying out unpaid domestic work in their family home.
In later years, however, many of the women were clerical workers, civil servants, professional women and schoolgirls or third-level students.
The proportion of women admitted to such homes in Ireland was probably the highest in the world in the 20th century.
Some pregnancies were the result of rape; some women had mental health problems, some had an intellectual disability, the Government-ordered review said.
In one year, 1943, 75% of the children who were born or who were admitted to the Bessborough home in Cork died.
The commission said that before 1960, the homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children (as they were legally termed then), that children were more likely to die in the institutions than outside them.
The most recent report found 9000 children died – 15 percent of the 57,000 children at the 18 institutions investigated by the Mother and Baby Home Commission – died between 1922 and 1998.
In the homes women faced appalling emotional torment at the hands of the nuns – forced to work scrubbing floors while being called ‘fallen,’ ‘sinner’, ‘dirt’ and ‘spawn of Satan.’
In the homes, each woman was given a new name, making them difficult to be found by friends and family.
They spent every day doing work including cleaning, cooking and gardening from 5.30am and were slapped by the nuns if they disobeyed.
Terri said they lived in terror of the wrath of God and were constantly being ‘brainwashed and groomed’ into believing they were worthless.
Her parents were made to believe she was still in London because they received letters with English stamps, without knowing they were coming from a priest at the Catholic Crusade & Rescue Society headquarters.
Having become unwell and haemorrhaging in the weeks before, Terri gave birth to Niall. She was unknowingly suffering from placenta previa.
She recalled ‘screaming the place down’ after losing massive amounts of blood.
She said a Sister came in and told her to ‘shut up’ and that nobody would her.
‘I begged her to get help but she insisted I would be fine,’ Terri said.
Niall was adopted around five weeks after his birth and Terri made repeated efforts to get him back, however St Anne’s adoption agency made threats to stop her.
She said none of the women who she encountered in a similar situation were aware of their rights.
Terri who has since had three children with her first husband Pat, is calling for the Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin to do more for those who were affected by the scheme.
Terri added: ‘Nobody can give me my child back, no one can give me back the life I wanted with that child, my life that was stolen from me. But show me you respect me and allow me my dignity as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother. We have been very wronged and that is not coming out.’
Earlier this month, a report into the treatment of women and babies in the homes was released.
It found that 9,000 children died in Ireland’s brutal homes between 1922 and 1998.
The inquiry was launched six years ago after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at Tuam, County Galway, was uncovered by amateur local historian Catherine Corless.
She said that she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home.
Then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny described the burial site as a ‘chamber of horrors’.
From 1921 to 1961 (when it closed), 978 children died at Tuam, 80 percent aged under 12 months, 67 percent between one and six months
Many of the mothers experienced health issues too.
Terri’s parents were unaware that she had been taken to a baby and mother institution in Ireland as they continued to receive letters with English stamps. Pictured: Terri and her second child Elaine
Terri (pictured) said the women in a similar situation to her at the institution were all unaware of their rights
IRISH INQUIRIES INTO ALLEGED ABUSE AT CHURCH-RUN HOMES
An Irish inquiry into alarming death rates among newborns at church-run homes for unwed mothers will hand down its final report on Tuesday, laying bare one of the Catholic Church’s darkest chapters.
There have been a series of reports into allegations of abuse and mistreatment by priests and members of religious orders. Here are some details of their findings:
FERNS REPORT INTO CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE, OCTOBER 2005
– The first official inquiry into the activities of abusive priests – in the diocese of Ferns in County Wexford – detailed the Church’s handling of 100 allegations, including of rape, against 21 priests dating back to the mid-1960s. It found that for 20 years the bishop in charge of the rural diocese did not expel priests but simply transferred them to a different post.
COMMISSION TO INQUIRE INTO CHILD ABUSE, MAY 2009
– The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued a five-volume report which found that priests abused children between the 1930s and the 1970s in Catholic-run institutions. It described orphanages and industrial schools in 20th century Ireland as places of fear, neglect and endemic sexual abuse.
Generations of priests, nuns and Christian Brothers – a Catholic religious order – beat, starved and, in some cases raped, children, the inquiry found. Some of the testimonies spoke of children scavenging for food from waste bins, being flogged, scalded and held under water.
MURPHY REPORT INTO CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE, NOVEMBER 2009:
– The Murphy report investigated widespread child abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese between 1975 and 2004 that the Church ‘obsessively’ concealed under a policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ about abuse. The archdiocese was preoccupied with protecting the reputation of the Church over and above protecting children’s welfare, the report said.
CLOYNE REPORT INTO CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE, JULY 2011:
– The report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne showed that senior clergy were still trying to cover up abuse allegations almost until the present day, a decade after it introduced rules to protect minors, and that the Vatican was complicit in the cover-up.
Then-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests. The Vatican responded by recalling its ambassador to Ireland.
MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES REPORT, FEBRUARY 2013
– An official report compiled by an inter-departmental government committee into Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries found that 10,000 women and girls, some as young as nine, were put through an uncompromising regime of unpaid work from the foundation of the Irish state in 1922 until 1996.
The report found that many of the women – some of whom were subjected to the harsh discipline of the institutions for simply becoming pregnant outside wedlock – were sent there by the Irish state.
MOTHER-AND-BABY HOME REPORT, JANUARY 2020
– Following the 2014 discovery of an unmarked grave with the remains of hundreds of babies on the grounds of a former so-called ‘mother-and-baby home’, the Irish government ordered an investigation into the treatment of children at the church homes for unmarried mothers.
The report was expected to detail a level of infant mortality far higher than the average in the country at the time and accusations of physical and emotional abuse of women and children.
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